Okay, I’ve done it again. Number Two on my list of the Top Five Worst Movies About Organ Donation also has two parts, because I came across another stellar example. So:
Number Two, Part Two: Repo Men
When I first heard about this movie, I promised myself I wouldn’t watch it. With a tag line like “For a price, any organ in your body can be replaced. But it can also be repossessed,” I wasn’t optimistic. Plus, it came out in March, four months after I had my heart transplant. Then, after I watched it once, I didn’t want to watch it again, although I usually have to watch a movie at least twice before I can write a complete review on it.
I’d like to put a word of warning on Repo Men though. If you’ve had a transplant recently, or you have a weak stomach when it comes to blood and surgery, this is definitely not the movie for you. After I finish this review, I have plans never to watch this movie again.
Remy (Jude Law) is a man whose job it is to repossess items when the client can’t pay for them. Except in Remy’s case, the items he’s repossessing are organs. It’s the near, unspecified future, and because so many people are dying while waiting for a living or cadaveric donor transplant, a company called The Union steps in to offer mechanical organs for a price.
The recipient is given three months after the transplant before they have to start paying their debt, but if at any time the recipient fails to pay the monthly minimum, a repo man will Taser him or her, perform an impromtu surgery and repossess the organ.
Remy’s good at his job, and has no qualms about it either, until the day the defibrillator he’s using on a client misfires and he ends up needing a heart transplant himself. His three months pass and he goes back to work as a repo man, but things are different now. Suddenly repossessing organs isn’t as simple to Remy as it used to be. He begins to see transplant recipients as people with families, because he is one now too. And now cutting into someone to take out their organ(s) makes him feel sick.
Because he’s now having trouble doing his job, Remy falls behind in his payments. He switches from being a repo man to a salesman, except with everything he knows about the process, he’s not very convincing when it comes to trying to sell people organs. Being a salesman pays a lot less than being a repo man, and Remy finds himself unable to catch up on past payments or make new payments.
Knowing he can’t go back to work, Remy teams up and falls in love with Beth (Alice Braga), a woman with several mechanical organs and various other bodily upgrades who is skilled in avoiding repo men. When his friend and colleague Jake (Forest Whitaker) from The Union comes to collect his heart, Remy isn’t surprised.
There’s no point in saying anything else about the plot of the movie. If you still want to see it after reading this, then I don’t want to wreck it for you. As far as I’m concerned though, this is where the movie should have ended; roughly an hour and twenty minutes in.
In terms of transplant misconceptions, the ones that exist in Repo Men are more about transplant recipients than organ donation itself. After all, there’s no reason to feel empathy for a mechanical organ. There is no loved one lost, no grieving family, no letters of thanks from the recipient to the donor’s relatives – the organs in this movie are simply commodities. If you can pay, you live; if you can’t pay, you die. Simple as that.
What concerns and disturbs me about Repo Men is how transplant recipients are portrayed. At one time Jake gets excited because he and Remy discover what he calls a “nest” of transplant recipients who have defaulted on their payments. Transplant recipients are no longer respected as individuals who are fighting for their lives but instead become deadbeats who will do anything to get out of paying.
One scene I particularly dislike happens when Remy and Jake see an overweight man eating a hot dog and drinking pop, scan him and discover he is two days away from having his mechanical pancreas repossessed. Remy calls from the car as they drive past, “Two days and your pancreas is mine” and the guy tells him he put the check in the mail, drops his food and runs off.
The feel of the movie is that organ transplants, as well as ‘upgrades’ to other various parts of the body have become almost fad-ish. Like the new plastic surgery or something. So let me be clear in case there is any doubt. Having a transplant is not a fun activity. It is not easy, and it is definitely not done on a whim or just because you can pay for it. And after watching Repo Men, I sincerely hope transplantation never goes that way.
Usually I like movies where I can recognise the city of Toronto or Canada in general. In John Q, (number four, part two on my list) it is ironic that it was filmed in Canada when the movie is trashing the American health care system. In Repo Men, however, recognising the Eaton Centre and the TTC subway is just unnerving.
It may sound odd, but of all the things that happened in Repo Men I was bothered most by the lack of scars. Apparently in the future a special gel exists that closes a wound after surgery without leaving any trace of a scar. The skin just seals right up, like the surgery never happened.
Maybe it’s different when the transplanted organ isn’t from another human or maybe I just have a different view of scars than most people; but I like my scars. They remind me of what I’ve survived. They also remind me of the special people in my life that I carry with me without ever getting to meet them personally. And those are two things I never want to forget.